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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 15, 2000
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                              JOE LOCKHART

                    The James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:55 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Okay. Let's start with two scheduling announcements. The Africa and CBI Trade Bill Signing Ceremony has been moved from Tuesday, May 16th, to Thursday, May 18th, to accommodate a number of members' of Congress schedule.

On Friday, May 19th, the President will travel to Philadelphia and Chicago. Following the Armed Services Day Ceremonies at Andrews Air Force Base, the President will travel to Philadelphia for a DNC Lunch, and will then travel on to Chicago for an evening DNC Reception. He will return to the White House late that evening.

That's all.

Q While we're doing the schedule, is the President going to go up for the nominating convention tomorrow in New York City?

MR. LOCKHART: The President will travel to New York tomorrow evening and spend the night in Chappaqua. As far as going to the convention, I don't have any information on that. As soon as I get some, I'll let you know.

Q Is he traveling right from there?

MR. LOCKHART: He's traveling right from there, for Wednesday.

Q So what's wrong with Governor Bush's proposal to preserve the solvency of Social Security?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me just make a couple basic points, and I'll leave it to those who are running this year, as opposed to those of us who just have to put our plans out. Let me make two basic points.

One is, he has already proposed a $2.1 trillion tax cut, which will -- the resources aren't there to fund. Secondly, he's now talking about diverting more money from the trust fund by taking money out from payroll taxes before it goes in.

So you're talking about a plan that will likely mean deep cuts in the Social Security guaranteed benefits, and is based on the fact that he hopes that the stock market does well. And I think when you're talking about a guaranteed benefit program, you don't base it on hope. And in this case, if the stock market performs poorly, the result would either be cuts for America's seniors, or some sort of bail out of the program.

We think that the proposal that the President has put forward to pay down the debt, use the savings, interest savings, for Social Security, for helping to shore up Medicare and provide a prescription drug benefit is obviously a more fiscally prudent approach.

Q But if you look at the long-term history of the stock market, it would appear to be, on the surface at least, a no-brainer.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think it is a no-brainer. I think if you look at those who come in, there are certainly down periods in the market where -- when you're looking at a guaranteed benefit program, that would be a fundamental shift.

But, listen, we'll have a good, healthy debate about this. We've put forward a program. I think the Vice President has made his views well-known, will again later on today. And the American public will have to decide whether we want to continue on the road of fiscal discipline, paying down the debt, and see the kind of results they've seen over the last seven years, or whether they want to take a U-turn.

Q Well, Joe, you proposed a bulk investment into the stock market, yourself. If that money should not be tied up with the ups and downs of the stock market, why did you do this?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're looking at -- there's fundamental differences. One is that they're talking -- I think Governor Bush is talking about taking payroll taxes, that go into the solvency. We're talking about money that is interest savings, which is afterwards. And this was a small amount of money that would be conservatively invested in bulk, so that you would have the savings from in bulk.

The idea, you know, didn't go very far last year. I think it generated very little enthusiasm among leaders in both the Republican caucus and the Democratic caucus. And we think that what we've put forward now offers the best and most fiscally prudent approach.

Q The President doesn't stand behind that plan to invest money in the stock market?

MR. LOCKHART: Sure. I mean, listen, if we could move forward and do something with money that's generated from savings, from interest, from lowering the national debt, that's something that has some merit to it. But I don't think there's anyone here who will believe there's merit to taking money on the front end from payroll taxes, which threatens the guaranteed benefit.

Q Joe, how do you feel about the idea of creating a commission, with Moynihan, Kerry and others, to look at this issue?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there's some merit to looking at overall Social Security reform. And we've had some success in the past with the Social Security Commission -- in 1983, when they made a number of important changes. But I think on this particular issue, we don't believe it's fiscally prudent to go in and to be draining from the payroll tax that potentially puts at risk the guaranteed benefit.

Q Joe, what do say to criticisms that at best Social Security turns a 1 to 2 percent return, and that given today's economy, there are much better ways to make money? Even if you were to invest it in government bonds, you could double the return.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we think there are a number of -- as the President has talked about, a number of ways to save for retirement. He's put forward a number of ideas, both in private savings and in pensions. But we believe that Social Security is an agreement that the American government has made with the American people. And there is real risk to going after and changing that fundamental of that agreement, which is a guaranteed benefit.

Q How immediate is that risk? In other words, are there Social Security recipients who are getting money now that, if this Bush plan was enacted, could find that there wouldn't be any money left to pay them?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think you have to look at it beyond just -- I mean, the question is that Social Security might look -- just looking at the demographics, if you don't make changes and you don't do something on solvency, it's something like 2055, I think, or 2057, I don't know the exact year.

But you have to look at this in terms of all of the other things that Governor Bush has proposed, including a $2 trillion tax cut. You take the $2 trillion tax cut, you take out all of the savings from -- the interest savings, and then add in the costs of replacing those resources and I think you've got a much different and more difficult problem.

Q Joe, what are the President's views on the new allegations raised against his Drug Czar, General Barry McAffrey?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President's views are the same as the Army Commission that looked at this, then dismissed the charges as unsubstantiated. I think the President believes that General McAffrey has done an excellent job in his current post as Drug Czar, and did an excellent job through a well-decorated military career.

Q And the article itself?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the article itself is another in a series of articles by a journalist who thinks if you throw enough stuff up against the wall, maybe something will stick. It's an attempt to gratuitously go after public officials and an attempt to try to revive a journalist's career, and I think it speaks for itself. There are a lot of government officials that he's gone after. I haven't seen a lot of facts.

Q If this is false, can General McAffrey sue him, or is he not, as a public official --

MR. LOCKHART: That is a legal question. It is false.

Q Joe, do you have -- does the President have any opinion on this suit being lodged by the DCCC against his counterpart, against Mr. DeLay?

MR. LOCKHART: I have not talked to him about it, so I don't know what his view is.

Q Are you going to take that question? Can you talk to him about that?

MR. LOCKHART: If it comes up, I'll find out his view.

Q But, Joe, the President is the head of the Democratic Party. This is an arm that he's associated with a lot, increasingly, raising money. They're suing a Republican group that's also raising money.

MR. LOCKHART: All of these things I'm aware of.

Q Right. So why wouldn't he be interested --

MR. LOCKHART: I didn't say he wasn't interested. I said I hadn't talked to him about it.

Q What's your thinking, Joe, about the proposal Chairman Hyde made last Friday on adjusting the juvenile justice bill? Is it something that you could live with?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we haven't actually seen the language. He did send a letter down here, and I think the letter had some encouraging words in it, as far as things like, how you define a gun show, which it appears that he's moved in the direction of Representative Conyers and the ideas that were passed in the House -- excuse me, passed in the Senate bill, rather than the House Bill.

So we're looking forward to seeing the language, but we're hoping that the spirit of bipartisan compromise that was contained in his letter to us can be extended, we can find agreement on the range of issues that remain, and frankly we can see some real benefit to the hundreds of thousands of moms and their families who came to the Mall this weekend to press Congress for sensible action.

Q What's your sense of the effect that might have had on the Senate side?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we'll have to see. I mean, I think Representative Hyde has been trying for some time to bring the conferees together. He's obviously working in good faith with Representative Conyers to find common ground on language. But we'll just have to see if that effort, as well as the voices of many hundreds of thousands of Americans, has any impact on the Senate.

Q Joe, has the President decided to address the nation on the China issue?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know of any such address.

Q Joe, on foreign policy, Taiwan's Vice President-elect said yesterday that she hoped the U.S. can apply the Middle East talks formula in dealing with the cross-Straits dispute. She proposed that President Clinton to invite leaders from Taipei and Beijing to the White House for a summit. Is that a workable proposal? Where does the U.S. stand?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as we said over the weekend, our one China policy is clear. We believe the cross-Straits issue should be discussed in the context of direct discussions. And the U.S. is not seeking a role as a mediator here.

Q Is it possible that the President might go to Northern Ireland before or after the Russia trip?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect any additions to be made to the Northern -- excuse me, to the U.S.-EU trip, which also includes stops in Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

Q Joe, on that subject, Japan has -- the Japanese government has fixed June 8th as the public memorial service for the former Prime Minister, Keizo Obuchi. Given what the President said yesterday, is it likely that he would go there?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any travel -- any additional travel plans to make, to announce here.

Q Joe, you talk about all sorts of things in here. Could you explain to me what that DCCC lawsuit is not important enough for you to take a question to the President?

MR. LOCKHART: I answered this question on Friday, and I said if I get a chance to bring this up with the President, I'll find his views. That's the best I can do.

Q Joe, why doesn't the President want to consider a trip to Northern Ireland --

MR. LOCKHART: Okay, we're now getting toward the absurd, if not there yet. So, anyone else want to try, or should we just end this? Thank you.

END 2:05 P.M. EDT